2014 Challenge Winners

In 2014, a record number of Canadians aged 14 to 17 took part in the National Democracy Challenge! Students from across the country submitted videos, images and pieces of writing on the theme "Show us why Canadians should vote." Their creations were evaluated by our panel of judges, who were extremely impressed by the quality and diversity of the entries. Therefore, it gives us great pleasure to announce the names of the winners of this year's Challenge!

Many thanks to our fantastic panel of judges: Rick Mercer, one of Canada's greatest political satirists; Rosanna Tomiuk, silver medalist at the Commonwealth Games and Pan American Games; and Eva Avila, winner of "Canadian Idol."



Video

1st place

The winner is Cathryn Plaxton, 16, from Mississauga, Ontario. She combined narration and humour in an effective, personal message. Ms. Plaxton has won a six-day, civics-related trip to Ottawa in April 2015 to participate in the "Politics in Canada" theme week organized by Encounters with Canada.

Her entry: Votez – C'est important!

Votez – C'est important!

2nd place

Marie-Claire Barasubiye, 15, from Ottawa, Ontario, has won a 32GB Apple iPad, with Smart Cover, for her entry:

Why Should Canadians Vote?

Why Should Canadians Vote?

3rd place

Elijah Dominic MacDonald, 15, from Ottawa, Ontario, has won a $200 Best Buy gift card for his entry:

Top 5 Reasons to Vote

Why Should Canadians Vote?

Image Category

1st place

The winner is Matthew Pieper, 15, from Mississauga, Ontario. He decided to share his thoughts about democracy using a Bitstrips-type cartoon, which has the advantage of combining images and text. Mr. Pieper has won a 32GB Apple iPhone.

His entry: Why You Should Vote

Why You Should Vote

"Why You Should Vote" Image Description

2nd place

Emilia Lilek, 16, from Waterloo, Ontario, has won a GoPro HERO3+ Black Edition waterproof camera for her entry:

Let your voice be heard

Let your voice be heard

"Let your voice be heard" Image Description

3rd place

Kelly Liu, 18, from Burnaby, British Columbia, has won a $200 Best Buy gift card for her entry:

Trail to...

Trail to...

"Trail to..." Image Description

Writing

1st place

The winner is Harriet Smith, 14, from Okotoks, Alberta. Ms. Smith explained that Canada could serve as an example to other countries by showing them that people don't need a law to force them to vote: all they have to do is care about what's happening in their country. Ms. Smith has won an 11-inch, 128GB MacBook Air laptop.

Her entry: In a Cage

Have you ever stopped to think about what a caged bird feels like? It does not get to decide what it eats, where it lives and is denied the right to ever discover just how high it could soar. The bird does not even decide who owns it. Instead the bird just has to abide by whatever its owner decides and try to make the best of it. Now some people might say that this does not matter because it’s just a bird, but many people in countries around the world are really just birds in a cage. Many people have no control or say in who rules them, they just have to live in hope that their ruler is benevolent, as they are at the mercy of whoever owns them.

In Canada we are lucky enough to not be a part of that group. We are not a bird in a cage, but rather a flock of sparrows that decide where they go together. A study by Iain Couzin, the evolutionary biologist, shows that groups of birds effectively vote to decide their ultimate direction. As Canadians, we strongly resemble a flock of birds, as we all have the right to an equal say in our future.

Many Canadians do not use this to their advantage and ignore their right to vote. By ignoring our right to vote, it is as if we are insulting all of the countries that do not have this right. We are a bird nesting in a tree right beside their cage, but we are not bothering to leave the nest. As a bird we do not use our freedom to explore and soar, instead we complain about the present when we are not using our right to influence the future. How is this fair to all of the caged birds? We have an opportunity to make a difference, because if a bad decision is made it does not just affect one person or one country, but rather could affect the world.

Globally we are known as the country that is polite and fair, but what we are doing with our democratic system and increasingly ignoring our right to vote is tarnishing that image. We as a country have a chance to set an example to other countries, showing that you do not need a law to make people vote, instead, you just need people to care about what’s happening to their country. If we decide to make a law that commands people to vote it becomes a responsibility rather than a right and then it loses all of its meaning. A forced vote for all could mean the decision would be more accurate in portraying what the country wants. However, in being forced to vote, perhaps many people would just pick a random selection to fulfill their obligation to vote. This is not what democracy is all about.

Democracy has always been about what and who the people want for their country, so we cannot make people vote because the democratic system is all about freedoms. However, is it right that we have this gift and that we are not taking advantage of it? If we educated Canadians on the difference between our democratic system and that of other countries that are part of a dictatorship, many Canadians would begin to understand that, as a nation, we are being selfish and we are disrespecting the right to vote. No one wants to be trapped in a cage with no rights, but just because we are not caged does not mean that everyone is free.

2nd place

Amina Mecheri, 16, from Montréal, Quebec, has won a Kobo Arc 10HD and a $100 Indigo gift card for her entry:

L'érable de la démocratie (original in French)
The maple tree of democracy

In the vast political forest, in the midst of the ideological brambles, at the very heart, stood a small maple tree. The frail, tiny maple was fragile and still had trouble staying upright on windy nights. Its symmetrical leaves, of unequalled precision, in full growth, were still seeking light in the thick forest.

Democracy cannot flourish on its own. It needs complete devotion and special attention. Every day, like the maple tree, it needs to be watered, to quench its thirst for justice and fairness. There are endless ways to maintain it. Demonstrate, shout, listen, share, write, criticize, vote: verbs we use every day, but sometimes forget to apply them to maintain our democracy. Democracy is not always obvious: Why demonstrate? How should we vote? Whom should we vote for? Is voting enough? To make informed choices, citizens have a duty to educate themselves, read, listen and understand.

And yet those goals would never be achieved without a free and objective press to guide us on our intellectual path. Plurality of opinions and independence of the press are essential to freedom of opinion. Journalists are the guardians of our democracy. Voting is no longer enough. We need to engage ourselves: start with schoolroom meetings and continue with general assemblies, unions, right up to Parliament. The little class president has become prime minister and his ideas are now circling the globe.

Through its extraordinary position as a democratic country that respects gender equality, Canada must be an example to and support countries like Afghanistan and Iraq. Those countries are still fighting for democracy. Raising funds, sending letters of encouragement to political prisoners, or writing an article in a student newspaper are all examples of citizen engagement that allows democracy to extend its long life. The maple soon stopped worrying and finally found its colours: digital replaced paper. During the Arab Spring, Egypt and Tunisia showed the rest of the planet the strength of social networks. Without them, those countries may never have had a real chance at democracy. Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr are incredible tools of incomparable scope. They must be used responsibly and are becoming a real asset for modern democracy.

The maple sheds its keys, spreads its leaves on the ground; the journalist, student and doctor are gathered around an electronic ticket and let their words float in the web. A murmur, a breath, the whirlwind becomes a tornado. What was at first only a line, a conversation among newcomers, simple immigrants talking, was transformed into newspaper articles, flyers, and legislation, leading finally to the Canadian Constitution.

Our democracy must not be taken for granted. We must constantly strive to maintain it. Social networks have made information more accessible than ever before. It is up to us to take that information, to share it, criticize it, illustrate it and discuss it. Seeing the adult maple tree, imposing and majestic, it may sometimes be hard to believe that this giant, this exemplary institution of democracy was once a mere seed, an idea. The maple is a true symbol of Canada’s heritage, a pillar of our democracy and our Canadian identity, and it is our duty to keep it strong and free.

3rd place

Natasha Lévesque-Wong, 15, from Mississauga, Ontario, has won a $200 Best Buy gift card for her entry:

Un vote, une voix, la démocratie
One vote, one voice, democracy

The right to vote is the foundation of modern democracy. It is giving one’s consent to being governed. It is the very essence of Western democracy, and thus of Canada. And yet, not all citizens vote.

Voting is necessary because it is one of the ways by which Canadians are given a voice. So it becomes a powerful instrument of freedom in democratic regimes. In 2011, voter turnout in Canada declined once again. Is it a worrying phenomenon in itself because the will of only some people was applied to all? Or does that abstention mask a very different social problem? This raises the question: should Canadians vote?

When we vote, we help choose the government that will lead the country in the coming years and which may bring about positive changes for the future. Voting for a government is the power to choose who will have the right to raise taxes, spend the country’s money and speak for Canada on the international scene. The number of votes gives the government legitimacy. It is a way to send a clear, strong message to the government. The more people who vote, the stronger the message is and the more it is heard by the country’s representatives. Moreover, the right to vote is a way to highlight the equality of everyone, especially in Canada.

Here, the right to vote is universal –– everyone is entitled to vote. Regardless of a person’s education, origin, gender or salary, everyone’s vote has the same weight (1 person = 1 vote). People who vote become active citizens, taking a stance on the changes that will affect their lives. Voting is an effective way for Canadians to express themselves. Canadians vote, and should vote, to respect and preserve democracy. The right to vote is a way to show other countries led by a dictator that Canada is a free and democratic country.

As noted above, voter turnout on March 2, 2011, was very low. Not voting influences Canadian democracy because it means that the government makes all the political decisions without the consent of ALL citizens. Furthermore, as voter turnout declines, other citizens begin to feel less and less concerned and stop voting in turn. Then, it is like a spiral: people don’t vote because it doesn’t change anything, but nothing changes because people don’t vote. This can lead society to wonder why people don’t vote.

First of all, Canadians have the right to vote starting at 18. Some young people exercise that right proudly when they reach the age of majority. And yet, in the federal election on May 2, 2011, only 38.8% of 18- to 24-year-olds in Canada were responsible citizens and took the time to go vote. These are the future workers and leaders of the country. So they need to understand the importance of voting in a democratic country like Canada. Studies show that if they don’t vote when they’re young, they won’t vote as they get older. So only the voice of those who voted will be heard and not that of all the people. It can be assumed that retired Canadians likely have more free time and so can take that time to go vote.

There is also a generational factor. In our grandparents’ day, voting was valued more than it is today. If retirees have enough free time to go do their civic duty and vote, why did only 69.3% of them do so in the 2011 election? Were the polling stations easily accessible to all? If that hypothesis could explain the low voter turnout among retirees, would the government, knowing the importance of voting, be prepared to open mobile polling stations to go to people who are unable to get out? Unlike their elders, adult workers, for their part, have much less free time. So it can be deduced that the mid-life population does not always take the time to vote even if it has the opportunity. Only 57.4% of them voted and exercised their right by doing their duty as Canadian citizens in the last election. Why do the remaining 42.6% of Canadian adults still not understand the importance of voting in Canada? Why can the government still not make them understand the responsibility they have toward their country? Could their absenteeism be a political message? If so, are they finding another way to make themselves heard, or do they just not care? Even though the right to vote is a fundamental component of modern Canadian democracy, it is not, and must not, be the only way for citizens to express themselves.

Finally, voting is one way to make elected representatives understand that they are accountable for what they do and their responsibilities. Voters often have a short memory, but the fact remains that the right to sanction representatives running for re-election rests with the voters. It’s their way of letting representatives know what they want and what they expect in the coming years. Voting is not only a right, not only a voice, but also a tool, an effective tool that empowers Canadians. If we all begin voting again in federal, provincial and municipal elections, Canada’s future will be more promising because it will reflect all citizens.

School Challenge

School Challenge Winner

Laurier MacDonald High School wins School Challenge Prize!

Thirty-seven students from Laurier MacDonald High School in St-Léonard, Quebec, submitted eligible entries to the National Democracy Challenge 2014. As this was the highest number of entries from one school, they won this year's School Challenge!

School Challenge Prize

The School Challenge prize is awarded to the school with the highest number of submissions. This year, one student from Laurier MacDonald High School will be awarded a bursary to attend a Forum for Young Canadians (Forum) session in Ottawa in late February or March. The bursary covers airfare, accommodations and activities for this week-long program.

Forum for Young Canadians

Elections Canada is proud to partner with Forum to offer this year's School Challenge prize. For the past 38 years, Forum has offered high school and Cégep students from across Canada an unforgettable week-long experience in the heart of Canada's capital. Participating youth go behind the scenes of Canadian politics and current affairs and experience the workings of the national decision-making process. In a highly experiential format, "participants are given opportunities to learn about governance, democracy, and citizenship; they meet with influential figures in Canadian public life, while getting to know other young people with interests similar to their own" (forum.ca).

Congratulations!

See the Challenge details
Link to Elections Canada